Yep, that was 2010 all right.

view of tops of austrian mountains

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

This being my last blog post (or in the geeky spirit of the internet “blost”) before Christmas and the New Year, I thought I’d take a quick look back at 2010 and a quick look forward to 2011, trying hard not to pull a muscle in my neck with the effort.

2010 has been a tough year for the “industry”, as was 2009. Well actually, it’s been tough for professional photographers for about the last 10-15 years, but I’m not going to go into that now.

And so back to the year which is just staggering to a close. What thrills we’ve had in 2010! The fight against the Orphan Works clause in the Digital Economy Bill which photographers won by the skin of their teeth and as the Labour government drew its last breath. Looking forward to 2011 though, it looks as though we’re going to have exactly the same battle again. Only this time with those who had pretended to be on our side in the last battle; the Tories, with David Cameron apparently believing that businesses like Google couldn’t have started here because our copyright law is seen as too restrictive. I fear a knee-jerk (or just jerk) reaction will go too far the other way and kill creativity in this country.

I’m going to look at that situation in more detail in the new year, but suffice to say the signs aren’t encouraging.

On a personally professional level 2010 wasn’t as bad as I’d expected. 2009 had been awful, but things picked up again this year, and I noticed a marked change in attitude to professional photography.

All through 2008-2009 I’d been rebuffed by designers who claimed microstock to be the New Messiah. They didn’t need me because they could get pictures for a few quid. Their clients didn’t need me because their designer had told them they could get images for a few quid. I was beginning to feel a little unloved, but I knew this festival of cheap, cheesy stock wasn’t founded on a true design ethos and as we moved into 2010 I noticed a gradual change in the conversations I was having with designers; “I’m a bit fed up with iStock,” they started to say. At first I thought it was coincidence that a couple had said it, but the work started to build up and I realised that designers had realised what I’d been saying all along: Corporate clients’ websites are all starting to look the same, and that’s not good for business.

By the middle of 2010 some had started to convince their clients of the need for a return to real photography, and commissions started to come in thicker and faster than they had at the opening of 2010. I’ve always been fortunate to have loyal clients that I work for directly, but I do like to work with talented designers too, and I was starting to worry they’d all gone a bit iStock stark raving mad.

So for me, 2010 has been interesting. 2011 promises to start with a bang with large projects planned in for January and February, so next year I’ll hit the ground running, rather than just hitting the ground.

Politically it’s going to be a tough year again for the industry. I mentioned orphan works earlier, and there is a copyright review underway which will look at this and the extended collective licensing proposals, which may well cause more problems than they aim to solve. There’s also a review of online copyright protection underway, though that’s on hold while legal wrangling over parts of the DEB are on-going.

I’d say then that I’m personally more optimistic about my own business in 2011, but pessimistic about the future of the industry as a whole due to the lack of understanding among our political leaders of copyright and it’s vitality to our industry. This issue could go either way, but what little I’ve seen hasn’t looked pretty. Let’s hope that by this time next year I’m writing about how the professional photographic industry is safe for a few more years.

Happy Christmas everybody, and all the best for 2011.


Engage brain before publication

It’s fair to say that these days there are far more people handling and publishing images than ever before. I’m not talking about photographers self-publishing to flickr, Facebook and the like, but those people within businesses and corporate organisations whose tasks include searching out, selecting and using images within their own publications.

This of course isn’t a problem, except that some (many? who knows) seem not to have had any kind of training for the job they’re being asked to do, and occasionally it all goes a bit wrong.

Classic examples have included a council department getting Birmingham in England mixed up with Birmingham, Alabama, USA on a council recycling leaflet in 2008. There’s some irony in the fact that 720,000 of the leaflets were distributed with the wrong Birmingham on them, but that it would have been environmentally wasteful to have them scrapped and recycled.

Another council, Dover, got its cliffs in a twist when they wanted to use a shot of the White Cliffs of Dover on their website. In an effort to find a “copyright free” photo, whatever that might be (presumably a photo taken at least 75 years ago, so black and white then), the council’s design agency plucked a lovely photo of some white cliffs from the internet and used that. The only problem being that the photo they used was of the Seven Sisters, nearly 80 miles away in another county.

Lindahls home page photo

No Turkish Delight for Greek Man – Lindahls Website.

These errors probably aren’t that serious. Silly and embarrassing, and indicative of an amateurish approach to images, but nobody died and nobody got hurt. No, the prize for borderline negligence goes to the Swedish dairy firm Lindahls Mejeri, who bought a stock image of what they thought was a Turkish man in traditional costume to use on the packaging of their Turkish Yogurt. I’m not sure if it was low-fat yogurt, but there must have been some instant weight loss when the firm discovered that the face adorning all their yogurt pots and marketing was that of a Greek man. Those of you not aware of the political faux pas in this situation,  just imagine that the feelings a Greek will have for Turkey are enough to curdle yogurt at 150 paces.

In that instance Lindahls are said to have paid an out-of-court settlement to the tune of over £500,000, such was the depth of the plaintiff’s hurt. Personally I wonder what the photographer’s caption read when he/she uploaded the image to the online stock library that sold the image onto Lindahls. Had the caption been misleading? or was it simply ignored?

And that isn’t the most serious case to have cropped up recently. In November of this year, The Guardian newspaper reported how The Independent had managed to confuse a photo of a Croatian film actor in Nazi uniform with a suspected Nazi WWII criminal Samual Kunz (oh the irony of his name!). This would be bad enough, but running the image next to the headline “Wanted for the deaths of 400,000 Jews,” this kind of error becomes serious, defamatory and potentially very expensive to settle. Take the cost of some spilt yogurt, and multiply that a few times.

I used to help run the picture desk of a regional newspaper, and was often required to find library photos of people featured in articles we were running. I was always careful about making sure I’d found the right photo of the right person, but if the story was particularly traitorous, for example reporting on the subject’s criminal activities, I would make sure I had three reasons to know that I had the right perpetrator. If I couldn’t be certain, I didn’t offer the photo for publication.

You have to wonder though if people handling images now have become too blase about the whole thing. Will it take a very high-profile case to make people a little more professional in their handling of images?

I’m going to finish on this rather tragic case of picture research gone wrong. On December 2nd 2010, this comment appeared at the end of an article on photographer Richard Mills:

hi richard


would you have a photo of a grouse . We are looking for one for a brochure on a walking route in co tipperary .



The article was an obituary for… Richard Mills.

Case Study: Conference Photography

Conference venues have had a rough time in recent years. Events can be expensive to run, and sometimes they’re expensive to attend, so where businesses have dared spend the money at all, they’ve often seen photography as a luxury bolt-on.

In my role as conference photographer I noticed a decline in appetite for this particular service in 2008/2009, but looking back over 2010 I’d say demand has increased again.

Getting quality photography at a conference has often been pretty low on organisers’ lists of priorities – that is until the conference is over and someone wants to “PR” the event. At which point they discover that all they have are some iPhone snaps which aren’t much use for anything at all except maybe viewing on an iPhone.

scientist delivering conference presentation

Balancing lighting on the speaker and their presentation takes some effort.

I can tell a client hasn’t given too much thought to photography prior to the event when I get the call the week before it’s due to happen to ask if I’m available and what the cost would be. They booked the venue about a year in advance. They booked the speakers, sound, lighting, video, staging, caterers, cleaners door staff etc etc. And (relatively speaking) at 5 minutes to midnight, somebody thought: “Oh! I think we might want some pictures from this event!”

Now I applaud these people for thinking so far in advance because as I said, some don’t think of it until the event is over, by which time it’s a bit too late to go back in time to shoot what should have been shot in the first place.

So if your organisation is considering a conference, which after all can reap great benefits in public relations, client relations and exchange of ideas with partners and clients, I would urge you to consider the benefits of getting coverage, and of getting that coverage done professionally.

Conferences can be very useful in that unlike most other events or times of the working year, they tend to be the one time when a significant number of staff and executives are in one place at the same time. So think about getting fresh headshots done – a small setup in a side-room or quiet corner is ideal for this.

Regen SW conference debate in Bath

More obscure shots can be useful later on.

A conference with industry-wide or even public interest, has scope for extensive PR. Pictures of key speakers talking passionately at the lectern, or as a panel of experts can add spontaneity to what might otherwise be a dull PR shot. For other PR uses it’s handy to get a relaxed portrait of key speakers at the venue, perhaps with relevant props visible in the shot.

Employing a professional (like wot I is) means not only will you get the vital shots you need, but you’ll get quick turnaround and you’ll also get the shots you never even realised you needed. Those little details that others would walk past, but which come in handy for future uses such as brochures, annual reports etc.

Of course you might find you have a keen photographer amongst your staff, but do they know how to handle the difficult lighting at these events? Balancing light on the speaker with the slide behind them isn’t always easy. They’ll also tend to miss the details I mentioned, and they often can’t turn the work around quickly. Finally, using a member of staff is all very well, but shouldn’t they be paying attention to the conference rather than the settings on their camera?

I cover conferences of all sizes, taking pictures which clients can then use for internal and external communications, press releases, websites, brochures, future presentations; the list is limited only by one’s imagination. In terms of cost, the photography has to be one of the better value ingredients of a good conference. The food can only be eaten once, while the photography can be used again and again, long after the taste of plastic ham sandwiches and greasy tea has passed.